The year 1972 was technically the longest one ever thanks to it being a leap year with 366 days and having extra two seconds added to the year when considering UTC. This was awesome because it gave us a little extra time to release amazing music. In this article, we’ll use Billboard’s year-end rankings to determine the 35 best songs of 1972.
1. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack
The First Time I Saw Your Face was a 1957 British folk song that was written by Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. Various singers would go on to record the track throughout the 60s, but it was Roberta Flack’s 1972 version that was the most successful. It not only won the Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1973, it ended up being the number-one single of 1972.
2. Alone Again – Gilbert O’Sullivan
Alone Again was an international hit from Gilbert O’Sullivan that was recorded for his Back To Front album in 1972. The song spent six weeks in total on top of the Hot 100, though most of them were non-consecutive weeks. By the end of the year, it had sold over two million copies and came up just behind our prior entry. It was also among the tracks used in the 1991 court case that decided sampling of music could constitute copyright infringement.
3. American Pie – Don McLean
Don McLean’s American Pie might be the best-known song to come from 1972. It served as the title track of his album that year and spent four weeks on top of the US Hot 100. It then also went on to top charts in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand but peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart. The RIAA’s list of the top songs of the 20th century placed it at number five, and it held a record for being the longest number-one single ever for over 50 years.
4. Without You – Harry Nilsson
Without You is one of the most-recorded songs of all time with over 180 different artists recording it since it was first released in 1970 by Badfinger. One of the most successful single versions was released by Harry Nilsson in 1971, and by 1972, it would spend five weeks on top of the UK Singles Chart and won him a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.
5. The Candy Man – Sammy Davis Jr.
The Candy Man first appeared in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and was written specifically for the movie. While several artists recorded the song after the success of the film, Sammy Davis Jr.’s version would become the most popular and his only number-one hit single. It spent three weeks atop the Hot 100 and two weeks on top of the Easy Listening chart in 1972, earning him a Grammy Award nomination in the process.
6. I Gotcha – Joe Tex
I Gotcha was originally recorded by Joe Tex in the 60s, but it was never released as a single by him during that decade. He would later re-record the song and released it as the B-side to A Mother’s Prayer, the first single from his 1972 album I Gotcha. It eventually rose to number one on the R&B chart and number two on the Hot 100 that year, selling around three million copies in total.
7. Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Lean On Me is a timeless song about love and friendship. It first appeared on Bill Withers’ album Still Bill and served as the second single released from the album. The track would eventually take the top spot of both the Hot Soul Singles and Hot 100 charts in 1973, remaining in the top spot of the Hot 100 for a total of three weeks. It’s also among the very few songs to have two artists record versions that reached the number-one spot on the Hot 100 thanks to Club Nouveau’s recording in 1986.
8. Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me – Mac Davis
Mac Davis’ Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me was a hit on both the country and pop charts in 1972, faring better with pop audiences than country listeners. It took the top spot on both the Hot 100 and Easy Listening chart and peaked at number 26 on the Hot Country Singles chart.
9. Brand New Key – Melanie
Brand New Key was originally written by folk singer Melanie, and it first appeared on her Gather Me album. You might know it as “The Rollerskate Song” thanks to its famous chorus. But between the end of 1971 and 1972, the track rose to the top of the US, Canadian, and Australian charts, peaking at number four on the UK Singles Chart.
10. Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast – Wayne Newton
Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast first appeared as the title track of Wayne Newton’s 1972 album. It swiftly reached number three on the Adult Contemporary chart and number four on the Hot 100, though it did spend one week on top of the Cash Box Top 100 rankings. By year-end, it was a top-10 hit in the US and sold over one million copies.
11. Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
Let’s Stay Together was the title track of Al Green’s 1972 album. It was released as a single at the end of 1971 and eventually rose to number one on the Hot 100, spending 16 weeks in total on the chart. It then sat on top of the R&B chart for nine weeks, helping it earn a place just outside of the top 10 on the year-end rankings. It was also put into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
12. Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – Looking Glass
Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) came from Looking Glass’ eponymous debut album in 1972. The song quickly rose to number one on both the Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 charts that year, though it did get stuck behind Alone Again for four weeks on the Hot 100.
13. Oh Girl – The Chi-Lites
Oh Girl first appeared on the 1972 album A Lonely Man and went on to become The Chi-Lites’ only number-one single on the Hot 100. It only remained in that spot for one week, but it did also reach the top of the R&B chart and spent two weeks in that position. It would enter the UK Singles Chart on more than one occasion, with a 1975 chart run reaching number five on that ranking.
14. Nice to Be with You – Gallery
Gallery’s Nice To Be With You was the title track of their album. It wound up being an international hit single, reaching number four on the Hot 100, number one in Canada, number four in Australia, and number two in New Zealand. It reached number one on the US Cash Box Top 100 chart as well.
15. My Ding a Ling – Chuck Berry
My Ding A Ling was originally written as a novelty song by Dave Bartholomew. Chuck Berry eventually covered the track in 1972 and scored his only number-one hit on the Hot 100 Singles chart. A longer version than his single one would be included on his album later that year as well. The song had plenty of run-ins with the morality police, but it still charted well and was a hilarious song of the era.
16. [If Loving You Is Wrong] I Don’t Want to Be Right – Luther Ingram
Luther Ingram ended up recording [If Loving You Is Wrong] I Don’t Want To Be Right, but it was originally written by The Emotions. Many artists recorded it, but his version proved to be the most successful. Theirs spent four weeks on top of the R&B chart and rose to number four on the Hot 100 in 1972, earning a place just outside of the top 15 on the year-end charts.
17. Heart of Gold – Neil Young
Heart Of Gold appeared on Neil Young’s fourth album Harvest, and it turned out to be his only number-one single in the US. It ended up topping the Hot 100, Cash Box Top 100, and Canada Top Singles charts that year. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time on three versions of their lists.
18. Betcha by Golly, Wow – The Stylistics
Betcha By Golly, Wow was first recorded by Connie Stevens in 1970, but The Stylistics found a much bigger hit when they released the song in 1972. It was part of their eponymous debut album and reached number three on the Hot 100 and number two on the R&B chart.
19. I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers
The Staple Singers were the first to record I’ll Take You There, and their version of it spent a total of 15 weeks on the US charts. It ended up being the most significant chart run for the song despite other artists recording it later on, with theirs topping the Hot 100.
20. Ben – Michael Jackson
Ben was written as the title track of a 1972 film, which was a spin-off of the 1971 movie Willard. During the film, Lee Montgomery performed the song, but Michael Jackson was responsible for the version played during the closing credits. It rose to the top of the Hot 100 and was Jackson’s first number-one single as a solo artist.
21. The Lion Sleeps Tonight – Robert John
Most of us know The Lion Sleeps Tonight from the Disney film The Lion King, but it’s actually one of the most-recorded songs of all time. Robert John’s version of the track in 1972 rose to number three on the Hot 100, number two on the Cash Box Top 100, and number six on the Adult Contemporary chart.
22. Outa-Space – Billy Preston
Outa-Space appeared on Billy Preston’s 1971 debut album I Wrote A Simple Song. It wasn’t expected to be a hit by anyone but him and was released as the B-side of the title track of the album. He was right, as the song rose to number two on the Hot 100 while the A-side only made it to number 77. Lean On Me was the track that kept it out of the top spot, but it won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1972.
23. Slippin’ into Darkness – War
Slippin’ Into Darkness is a unique blues song that has been recorded by numerous artists since it was originally written and released by War. The track spent a total of 22 weeks on the Hot 100, tied for the longest streak of the year in 1972, and peaked at number 16 on the chart. In total, the song sold well over two million copies.
24. Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress) – The Hollies
Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress) was first released on The Hollies’ album Distant Light, and the single version of the song sold well over two million copies worldwide. It reached number two on the Hot 100 and held the spot for two weeks. Interestingly, John Fogerty sued The Hollies and stated the track was too close to his trademark vocal style.
25. How Do You Do – Mouth And MacNeal
How Do You Do was a huge international single for Mouth And MacNeal. The song took the top spot on the charts in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and New Zealand. In 1972, it then went on to spend 19 weeks on the Hot 100 and reached number eight on that ranking.
26. Song Sung Blue – Neil Diamond
Song Sung Blue was inspired by Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 and proved to be a big hit single for Neil Diamond. The song appeared on his album Moods and would later show up on several of his live and compilation albums. In 1972, the track reached the top spot of the Hot 100 and spent a total of 12 weeks within the top 40 of the chart.
27. A Horse with No Name – America
A Horse With No Name was the first and most successful release to come from the band America. Released in Europe in 1971 and the US in 1972, the song reached the top of the charts in the US, Canada, and Finland. It also made it to number three on the UK Singles Chart.
28. Popcorn – Hot Butter
Popcorn is an instrumental composition that was composed by Gershon Kingsley in 1969 for the album Music To Moog By. Using a Moog synthesizer, the song became an international hit single for several artists, but Hot Butter’s 1972 is the one we’ll be focusing on. It rose to number five on the UK Singles Chart, number one on the US Hot 100, and topped the charts in France for four weeks.
29. Everybody Plays the Fool – The Main Ingredient
The Main Ingredient was the first group to record Everybody Plays The Fool in 1972. It served as the first single to be released from the group’s album Bitter Sweet and would turn out to be their highest-charting single. It reached number three on the Hot 100 and number two on the US R&B chart.
30. Precious & Few – Climax
Climax’s Precious & Few spent three weeks in the number three spot on the US Hot 100 and reached number one on the Cash Box Top 100 chart. It just missed out on the top five on the Canadian charts, peaking at number six on that listing.
31. Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All – The 5th Dimension
Last Night I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All was the final platinum record The 5th Dimension released. It first appeared on their album Individually And Collectively and rose to number two on the Adult Contemporary chart, number eight on the Hot 100, and number 28 on the R&B chart.
32. Nights in White Satin – The Moody Blues
Nights In White Satin was first released as a single in 1967 and was a fairly successful chart hit during its initial run. It was later reissued in 1972 and surpassed its first peaks, rising to number two on the Hot 100 and spending two weeks in that spot.
33. Go All the Way – Raspberries
Go All The Way reached the top five on three different US charts in 1972. It peaked at number five on the Hot 100, number four on the Cash Box Top 100, and number three on Record World’s listing. It also got banned by the BBC for being sexually suggestive.
34. Too Late to Turn Back Now – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
Too Late To Turn Back Now was meant to be the follow-up single to Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s debut hit Treat Her Like A Lady. It reached number five on the R&B chart, number two on the Hot 100, and number one on the Cash Box Top 100 chart.
35. Back Stabbers – The O’Jays
The O’Jays’ Backstabber was the title track of their 1972 album. It ended up reaching number one on the Hot Soul Singles chart and number three on the Hot 100. It would later be used as part of the soundtrack for the 1977 film Looking For Mr. Goodbar.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.